Updated: May 6
Welcome to the twelfth post of The Artist Series, where I interview musicians who have overcome injuries to help demystify performance-related pain and inspire musicians to better take care of their health.
Our next guest is Gretchen McNamara, a professor of trombone and music education.
What is your name (and preferred pronouns)?
Gretchen McNamara (She/Her)
Where do you currently work, and what is your instrument/voice type?
I work at Wright State University where I teach trombone and music education.
What was your injury, and how did you get injured?
My injury was in my left shoulder.
What were the biggest challenge(s) of your injury?
Holding my instrument for any real length of time. Getting fatigued and experiencing pain within the course of a rehearsal was particularly challenging because when I started and stopped was entirely up to someone else. On my own and in my own practice I could choose to put my horn down for a minute or take a break completely, which was more manageable.
What was your recovery like? What struggles did you face trying to overcome your injury?
Recovery was a really interesting process. Working through functional movement exercises I was fascinated by how the body could change over time incrementally. It aligned very much with my instructional strategies for teaching trombone, which was not surprising upon reflection, but also, not predicted before starting the process. I think the biggest hurdle for me was overall consistency. I was committed to doing the work, but found myself a little inconsistent from time to time which aligns with my general disposition in life for all things that are good for me.
All that to say, over time, after the program ended, I noticed that I now hold my instrument a little differently and my left shoulder pain has not returned. What is most interesting to me about that observation is that this is merely an awareness that something is different. I did not set out to change the way I hold my horn, nor was I instructed to do so which is super interesting and fascinating to me as a pedagogue.
What was the biggest lesson you learned during your recovery?
I learned that I’m worth the investment, that wellness isn’t about making music, but it is certainly influential, and that being guided from a position of caring first and strategy second is motiving (and also in full alignment with my own teaching/coaching/mentoring strategies).
What was something that surprised you during your recovery?
I was surprised by the effectiveness of SMR and movement together to solve pain. I have experienced physical therapy, massage, Body Mapping, Alexender Technique, yoga, and Pilates. They are all great in and of themselves, and yet none of the individual strategies bring together the combination of releasing the muscle while moving at the same time. It was fascinating.
What are you actively doing to stay healthy and pain-free?
I drink a lot of water and prioritize moving my body. As I age, I notice different aches and pains here and there and I feel like I have strategies to address them as they show up.
Do you have any words of encouragement for someone currently going through an injury?
Celebrate the small changes. Showing up for yourself is a win no matter how big or small it seems. Be hopeful and encouraged because you are not alone.
Any other final thoughts about your recovery journey you’d like to share?
I really appreciate the way Austin approaches recovery holistically. The process isn’t just about the body, but it is about the mind as well. Noticing trends, developing discipline, making changes and understanding our own obstacles is all part of the process.
What are you currently working on musically? Do you have any projects you’d like to plug?
I don’t have any current projects since the semester has just wrapped up, but I will say that this last semester has been fantastic and I was involved in the following fun things with my colleagues at Wright State: WSU Brass Festival, Clinic Presentations at OMEA, WSU Honor Band Festival, host to OMEA State Band Adjudication, and the Silver Melted into Sound Music Festival. We are an active program with a lot of outreach and love running events on campus as a way to serve our community, program, college and university.